Nothing About Us Without Us: Black Women Discuss Communications in the Era of COVID-19 (Part 2)

Published on March 4, 2021

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Written by Shareese ThompsonShareese Thompson is a Vice President at M Booth Health and believes conversations and connections can be the spark that ignites the fires of change.


As we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, we’re delighted to bring you this fascinating and important conversation between Cheryl Overton, Chief Experience Officer at Cheryl Overton Communications, and Shareese Thompson, VP of M Booth Health, about the ramifications of historical disparities in health that impact African Americans today.

 

Audio podcast:

 

Shareese Thompson:

I’m wondering if you have thoughts about how people of color when they’re put in situations, when they’re asked to contribute, feeling as though we may not have the answer, like I may not be the multicultural expert that you’re looking for simply because I’m wrapped in brown paper. What are your thoughts?

Cheryl Overton:

Yeah. I think you just said it. I mean, I think that, first of all, no one should feel the pressure to become an on-the-record source or an expert for something they’re not an expert in. If somebody asked me to do some quantum physics right now, I’d be like, “What? Huh? That would be a mistake on your part.” Don’t make that mistake. I think it’s absolutely fair and appropriate to say, “Here’s my opinion about it based on my lived experience. But I think if what you’re looking for is a learned, experienced multicultural marketing perspective, I suggest you talk to X, Y, or Z.” Hopefully one of those is me in that.

And in fact, as women of color, as people of color, in majority agencies where we might not have other colleagues that look like us all the ways around, I think it’s a teachable moment for our colleagues. I don’t speak for the whole segment. I can’t speak for the whole audience, but somebody who does this every day, who’s close to the data, who understands the insights, work and things like that, they may be able to share, of course, their lived experience and then let me extrapolate what that looks like from a trend perspective or from a data perspective.

Don’t feel pressured to represent the race. Feel comfortable representing Shareese because you’re the expert at that. If there are things that you know because of your many years of experience that, of course, apply to the audience, share that. But I think that we should not, just as I said before, put their Black employees in that place to now be experts at diversity, equity and inclusion, or multicultural marketing just because they are people of color. We also shouldn’t fall for it too.

If that’s not our expertise, if that’s not our passion, if that’s not our bliss, don’t take it on. Just be like, “I really think we should bring in somebody who does this every day, all day. Let’s bring in an expert.” Because that will make the work not only better that will actually give it that heft and that weight that it deserves.

Shareese Thompson:

My next question is about measurement, right? We’ve gone through many evolutions of how we are measuring, whether or not we’re moving the needle. And it’s a lot more difficult sometimes for public relations, and when we’re driving home communications and messaging, sometimes harder than it is in other disciplines like advertising, for example, where there’s more concrete analytics. What do you think are going to be or should be things that agencies can look to measure in terms of their impact and moving the needle in talking to and communicating properly with communities of color?

Cheryl Overton:

Wow. I mean, I think some of the things that we use traditionally can also be applied in this lens. We don’t always invest in things like benchmarking, for example. But in these cases, maybe we should because we have to know a starting off point in terms of maybe this particular community’s awareness level of an initiative or of a brand stance or even a brand in general. Do they even have any affinity for this brand? I think a brand health sort of workup, but as it pertains to these multicultural audiences or whatever, that’s a good place to start, and those are things we do on the total market side. Why not do that research among these audiences? Not only to see where you stand, but frankly, where there areas of opportunity.

From a messaging standpoint, I absolutely think some of the same KPIs that we use like in our measurement dashboards and sort of media… not media monitoring but media valuation, if you will, I think those things pertain, but I think they have to be done with a decidedly intentional lens toward these audiences of color. It doesn’t mean I’m doing a big pitch and I’m going to all types of media outlets and I’ve included some, for example, African-American media outlets on there, did they cover my same messages as everybody else? That’s not what I mean. What I mean is did we engineer that pitch to give them… that’s cool, we have an announcement, it’s a press release, everybody’s getting the same information, but did we engineer that pitch to those ethnic publications that maybe highlight a voice that represents that community? Did we pull out of our overall pitch a data point that’s very resonant to that particular community? Have we done that extra work to maybe give them a fact sheet that works for them?

And I think that taking that extra step to make it relevant is a good way to start to make inroads with the journalists and the ethnic press and things like that. But in terms of measurements, I think the same ones. It’s certainly not about reach and frequency, it’s about the sentiment. It’s also about how much reverberation the placement has among these audiences. If we’re talking about the Black audience, for example, well, we know the Black audience. They’re a beast on social media. They can make a story fly or bring it down. Memes get created real quick if it’s—

Shareese Thompson:

Black Twitter.

Cheryl Overton:

Black Twitter, right.

Shareese Thompson:

I remember the first time I was ever asked if there was like a separate platform for Black Twitter–

Cheryl Overton:

Oh, right. I’ve been asked–

Shareese Thompson:

I’m like, “Nope.” I think it’s interesting that we can have this conversation, that we know exactly what Black Twitter is and what’s in–

Cheryl Overton:

I think more people are familiar now, right?

Shareese Thompson:

Well, because they don’t want to get dragged by Black Twitter.

Cheryl Overton:

Don’t want to get dragged, or maybe you want to be lifted up.

Shareese Thompson:

That’s right.

Cheryl Overton:

I do think that it’s an opportunity for people to recognize, like you could have a story, an article, about whatever your announcement is or whatever. Does it have that content, sort of touch points that really resonate with the audience, like a really unforgettable quote or a really cool image that they love to share? This is what the reverberations are really about. And it can be engineered in our pitch going in. It’s not happenstance.

We can take that extra step as agency people to build the proper pitch or the proper program that feels very inclusive and authentic and represents different audiences. And then when we’re measuring it, you get to see it’s not just about impressions or reach, it’s about, wow, that sentiment was super positive, or they shared and liked it, or they took my image and now it’s a meme. But these are also measures that can be used to show how something is resonating.

Shareese Thompson:

Can you hear me snapping in the back?

Cheryl Overton:

I see and hear the snapping.

Shareese Thompson:

I wanted to ask your thoughts. We have some recent media reports here, I would say within the last week, about a soft health crisis that’s being caused by COVID. Meaning, we paid so much attention to COVID, rightfully so, and communities of color, that the soft crisis that we see developing is that people are not looking at other health concerns that they have and/or avoiding doctors and visits, and not paying attention to the other healthcare problems, many of which could frankly become underlying conditions and exacerbate COVID should they happen to contract the virus. What do you think we should or shouldn’t be doing differently as communicators to balance COVID and the importance of COVID, with the other health conditions that we know we’re dealing with?

Cheryl Overton:

Yeah, it’s critical. I don’t even know that it’s a soft crisis. I think it’s a regular A-level crisis that is happening, and it’s real. I think that when we’re doing healthcare campaigns, let us always embed that message of how important it is to stay on your regular routine with your appointments, with your care if you have a chronic disease. You might not want to go into a crowded health center, you might feel trepidation about doing it, but now more than ever it’s important to stay on top of your routine healthcare. If you are being treated for a particular condition, now is not the time to allow some of the things with COVID to prevent you from staying on track with that.

I am working with one of my clients and for Breast Cancer Awareness Month we did a campaign, of course, around Black women and getting their annual mammogram. Because we did see for women during COVID, it was one of the appointments that they said, “I’ll put it off until things are a little bit more normal out there.” And we really wanted to encourage them and say, “No, now’s the time to do it.” Because the screening rates between Black women and other women of other ethnicities, we get screened around the same amount of time, but we get diagnosed as Black women with cancer 40% more. We sometimes get diagnosed with more serious forms of cancers that are harder to treat, and as a result, our death rates are higher. That’s a problem and we can’t afford to not miss our mammogram. As soon as we can get it, we need to get it and we need to keep getting it, COVID notwithstanding. It’s more serious for us. This is no laughing matter. This is no joke, if you will.

Not only was the point of our campaign, of course, to keep your annual appointment, but to keep it and especially keep it now. And so we did, of course, some health awareness efforts. We did some efforts with key opinion leaders and healthcare providers, but we used talent, as we often do, with these health campaigns. We used somebody who Black women really trust and feel that she is one of them no matter how much notoriety she’s gotten and that was Mary J. Blige, who herself was like, “Ooh, it’s time to get my mammogram. I need to feel confident about the mask situation and if it’s safe there.” And she asked all those questions that we hear women asking, and she was able to sort of let them know here was my checklist to feel okay about going here. You can borrow my checklist so you feel okay about going too.

It was a way to normalize it and really show her journey going and making women see, “You know what, this appointment actually isn’t that long. I can do it. I can do it safely. I’ll put a mask on and social distance. I’ll hand wash things before and after, but I will have that peace of mind that I took care of that in the calendar year that I needed to.” I think we have to sort of keep that message no matter what kind of health literacy we’re talking about. Now more than ever, it’s important that we take care of our whole health, not just our COVID health.

Shareese Thompson:

Well, I can’t think of a better way to end. I want to thank you again for joining us.

Cheryl Overton:

Thank you, Shareese.

Shareese Thompson:

This was such a great conversation. I, on a personal and professional level, am so very gracious, so thank you for sharing your time.

Cheryl Overton:

The admiration is mutual. Thank you for taking the time and for having me.

Shareese Thompson:

Of course, ladies and gentlemen, we have shared our time today with Cheryl Overton, who is the founder and Chief Experience Officer at Cheryl Overton Communications. Thank you again.